Five Reasons “The Office” Is The Bleakest Drama On TVBy Dan Seitz
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“What we have here is the ultimate smackdown between the Nard Dog and crippling despair, loneliness and depression. I intend to win.” – Actual dialogue
“The Office” is acclaimed for being one of the funniest shows on television. But, as repeated watchings have emphasized to me, it isn’t. If anything, it’s a drama, a bleak, dark drama full of foreshadowing and terror. Here are five reasons “The Office” is actually so dark it makes Goths want to kill themselves:
5) Management Is Incompetent and Gets Increasingly Moreso as You Go Up The Chain
Let’s leave aside Michael Scott for a moment. Obviously he’s an idiot boss. But what about his bosses?
Jan, his first direct superior, had a self-destructive streak a mile wide and actually gets worse once she becomes Michael’s girlfriend. We learn Jan’s abusing Michael emotionally and sexually, something that only stops once the writers finally write her mostly out of the show. Even when he breaks up with her, she uses her pregnancy to emotionally extort him.
Ryan, of course, is promoted to a Quentin Tarantino movie, and then goes to jail for fraud. David Wallace seems competent until we see him post-Dunder Mifflin, which reveals he’s had pretty much a complete emotional breakdown. From what we see of Dunder Mifflin senior management, in the brief glimpses we get otherwise, they’re not much better.
Forget the Peter Principle. We’ve gotten to the septic principle of management; for those unfamiliar, it’s “the big chunks float to the top”. And we haven’t even gotten to the characters we actually spend time around yet.
By the way, consider how Michael treats Toby in the course of the show, and compare it to his relationship with Jan.
4) Office Jobs Turn Good People Into Bad People
One consistent thread in “The Office” is that being a wage slave turns you into a monster.
Consider our “heroes”, Jim and Pam. They started out as two people who hated their jobs and never wanted to stay, and then found each other…and are now stuck in jobs they hate, because they have a mortgage and a kid to support. At least their marriage is healthy and stable, even if their psyches have gradually worn away until only the mean, pointy parts are left. Hey, there has to be one bright spot.
Look at Pam: she started out as a meek receptionist, and seven years later, she’s emotionally blackmailing a direct supervisor to give her a job title that doesn’t exist and then manipulating the rest of her coworkers into believing she’d already been hired for the job that didn’t exist. Or how about her screaming fit over her mother dating her boss?
Or how about Jim? Jim was always a bit of a douche, but exclusively to Dwight, so it was OK. Then Jim joined management and immediately became both about twenty IQ points dumber (witness his accidental annoucement of Pam’s pregnancy at their rehearsal dinner) and a lot more of a douchebag, such as letting Michael fall into a koi pond. Now we’re at the point where Jim pegs Dwight with snowballs full of rocks.
Or Ryan? Ryan goes from naïve temp to business school graduate to executive to hostile, callow idiot hipster, and this takes approximately three years. All of these people were decent people when they started out: now they’re the people at the office you hate.
Even the minor characters who started out decent have become scary douchebags. Phyllis stole Pam’s original wedding ideas, dresses provocatively to get Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration, to beat the crap out of random men, and the show has implied she’s cheating on him. Toby went from having a sweet crush on Pam to having a profoundly disturbing sexual obsession with Pam, despite his demonstrated ability to land hot chicks whenever he wants and Pam’s profound disinterest. Stanley is so filled with rage it nearly killed him. At this point, there are very few people left in “The Office” you’d want anywhere near your office, and we haven’t even gotten to the scary people yet.
3) The Office Makes Bad People Into Absolute Monsters
In an alternate universe, there’s a TV miniseries called “Dwight Schrute”, about a man suffering from severe paranoia who, slowly but surely, misunderstands the behavior of his officemates until a week later, when he walks in with an assault rifle and a maniacal smile, and they all die before he blows his brains out. Come to think of it, that might be a Uwe Boll movie.
Before you argue otherwise, remember that Dwight has so little grasp on fantasy versus reality that it was easy to make him think Jim was becoming a vampire. That’s beyond stupid, that’s quite possibly mentally ill.
Seriously, Dwight Schrute exists, and he’s usually the guy you see on the six o’clock news. What’s really scary is that the series has shown us he owns at least two high-powered firearms, a deer rifle and a hand cannon, not to mention a variety of hand weapons, at least some of which he might actually know how to use. Considering that this is a man who actually flagrantly attempted to sabotage Jim’s manager position, and actually at one point reduced the man to a paranoid wreck, going far beyond any prank Jim ever played on him, it’s kind of amazing he hasn’t brought in a gun yet.
But how about Angela? She started out as uptight, and gradually we’ve learned her psyche is deeply twisted. She’s on the road to crazy cat-lady hood, of course, but the really unnerving part is her sexual dysfunction. Think about it: this is a woman obsessed with propriety who banged Dwight, of all people; then got engaged to Andy, and started cheating with Dwight, including having sex in the office; and finally provoked a fistfight between the two men she was banging when really they should have both been punching her. These are people who tried to turn reproduction into a contract.
Even Meredith, who started out as mildly skanky and kind of weird, is now a full-blown alcoholic who eats hand sanitizer and prostitutes herself for cheap office supplies and steak coupons. Which brings us to the third type of people at this office:
2) The Only Way To Survive Is To Be Too Stupid To Notice Your Job Sucks
If there are people who have managed to thrive emotionally at the office, and there are only a handful, it’s because they’re, well, dumb. Andy, once he went to anger management (which seemingly transformed his entire personality), has become a goofy frat boy who takes everything in stride and just wants to be friends with everybody. Erin, despite her dark and miserable past, seems to be too daffy to notice how badly she’s sometimes treated. Kelly is simply a cheerleader who never grew up, and seems to genuinely enjoy her job.
Then there’s Michael, who basically survives solely because corporate doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of what goes on in Scranton at any given time, and just how close his testicles are to the bandsaw on any given day. If anything, Michael is the most pathetic figure in the show. Repeatedly, we see that his only social life is within that office, and he thrives by deluding himself that everybody likes him and his coworkers are the replacement family he never had. But they don’t and they aren’t, which brings us to the darkest corner of “The Office”.
1) Your Job Will Cause You To Die Alone After Driving You To Bad Relationships
Let’s see here: Darryl, Toby, and Meredith are all divorced at least once, with only hope for Darryl on the horizon. Kevin has never had a meaningful relationship that’s lasted more than a few episodes. Angela has a choice of Dwight or spinsterhood, considering how that recent addition of the state senator love interest works out. Oscar seems too timid to ever meet somebody else. Andy might get Erin at the very last episode, but not before. Dwight will die among his beets if Angela doesn’t get to him first. Kelly’s obsession with Ryan will seemingly never end, and certainly not end well. Stanley cheated. Phyllis possibly IS cheating.
Creed is probably happy where he is, so there’s that.
Michael, though, is the poster boy for this. Before they chickened out and brought back Holly Flax, thus erasing Michael’s gay crush on Ryan, a favorite joke of the show was that Michael was at a dead end emotionally as well as professionally. He got into a relationship with Jan, who, under the law, raped him. He got into a relationship with his realtor, and freaked her out with his emotional neediness (which, to be fair, is pretty terrifying). He slept with Pam’s mom and backed out when he learned her age. The show even made jokes about how he was going to die at the office, with Michael coming back from a corporate interview calling the office “his grave” as the camera backs away slightly to show him standing alone.
Jesus, guys, why not just have him die of a heart attack right there? Maybe have terrorists blow up an adorable puppy he just adopted?
If you think about it, leaving aside the few successful relationships like Jim and Pam, this is a show about people grinding themselves down to a nub and dying alone, possibly with their corpses eaten by their pets.